Tito insightful, candid at Winter Meetings
Indians manager — yes, it still sounds a little weird to call him that — Terry Francona held court at the Winter Meetings on Wednesday in a media session that lasted nearly a half hour.
Francona spoke in-depth about his new challenges with the Indians while looking back fondly at his time in Boston, and sounding more at peace with how things ended with the Red Sox than he did a year ago.
Here is a sampling:
The swing of emotions from September of 2011 to a year as an ESPN commentator to, now, the manager of the Indians: “Uneven. A little bit of a roller coaster. I think you go back to September of ’11, and that was tough, man. I don’t care what city you’re in. When you go 7 and whatever, 20, if you’re the manager, you’re wide open for criticism. That’s just the way it is. And the way things ended was difficult. I thought stepping back was probably a smart thing. It’s not necessarily the easiest thing in the world to tell yourself you need to do that, but it was, I think, really healthy for me. I know I get back into it now feeling like I’m better prepared to do the job correctly because it’s got to be almost 24 hours a day to do it right, at least I think so. I was pretty beaten up by the end of that last year.”
Now on the other market of the small market/big market race, and losing out on Victorino to the Red Sox. “[Jerks],” quipped Francona. “You know what, it’s kind of hard to fault a guy like Shane Victorino for going to Boston. When guys get to be a free agent, they earn that right to go wherever they want, and it’s a great baseball town. Again, I have a lot of respect for him and the way he went about his decision. So it’s kind of hard to fault somebody for that.”
Difference in managing the Indians and the Red Sox? “When I took the job in Boston, the expectations were win or go home. I remember being very thankful that Dave Roberts was safe. I probably would have gone home. This is a little different now. We’re younger. We’re not in the same position. But our expectations, at least in my opinion, are still the same. We’re supposed to try to win. So Chris and I and all the guys are trying to put together the best roster we can, and when it’s time to put a uniform on, that’s when I get really excited, and we try to have our guys play the game correctly.”
People were surprised you took the Indians job? “First of all, people may not have known me as well as they thought they did, and the hurdle don’t scare me. I know they’re there, the challenges, but I wanted to do it with a group of people where I knew I’d be comfortable, and I wanted to be part of the solution. I didn’t want to be like a quick fix. When Chris and I talked, it became evident to me real quick ‑‑ again, I was either going to take this job or not this year. And I’m very comfortable with where I’m at. Again, having a challenge isn’t bad. Trying to find a way to tackle them is actually pretty exciting. And I’m not delusional. We have challenges. We have some things we’ve got to overcome, but trying to do that, I’m looking forward to it.”
What about the staff John Farrell has put together in Boston? “I want to be careful on rating everything that Boston does. That’s not my job anymore. I’m a manager of another team. I think, being totally honest, I think Boston’s biggest weakness is their manager,” Francona said to a chorus of laughs. “I want to kind of stay away from that. I don’t need to rate everything John does. That’s not going to work.”
Your upcoming book with the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy: “I don’t know. I hope people want to buy it.”
Do you expect fallout? “Fallout? I hope people buy it. I spent a lot of time. No, I think it’s more ‑‑ it’s eight years of a lot of funny, some emotional, a couple sad things. I think Dan busted his rear end on this thing. The fact that, first of all, me and him were together doing it was a shock to me. First time I picked him up, I told him, you have to blackout the windows because I don’t want people to see you driving me around. It ended up being probably ‑‑ I had a year where I could do it because under normal circumstances, you can’t do it. And it ended up being kind of fun. I think, for the most part, if somebody ends up being bent out of shape, that was not ever the intent. It was just to kind of tell the story, and I hope that people take it that way because I think it’s a really good story.”
Did you gain perspective on managing in your year away? “It’s hard to sit and just say, I should have put a hit and run on on April 13th or something like that. But in our game, the communication is so important, and if you get away from that at all, that can ‑‑ again, your talent level, if you don’t have enough talent, it’s going to get exposed at some point during a long season, but as a manager, if you have get your guys to play to most of their ability more often, you’re doing your job right.”
More at peace now with your departure from Boston? “You know what, I never had a problem. I think it’s a little bit of a misrepresentation. If you really think about it, it wasn’t like all of September me and you guys were feuding. We had a really tough September. It was a rough, uphill battle for us. We were leaking oil like every day, but our biggest concern was to trying to get to the playoffs. We didn’t deal with any of those issues until after the season. So it was kind of weird. I didn’t have a chance to like sit back and think about not having that job. Two days later, I was defending myself. So it was hurtful. And where it went from there was disappointing, but time does have a way of ‑‑ I don’t want to go through life being ‑‑ I don’t know if vindictive is the right word. I don’t know if that’s healthy. I have too many people there that are too special. I was disappointed with the way it ended, and I’ll probably always feel that way, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great seven years and five months.”
Coming back to Fenway for the 100th anniversary: “I was conflicted. I’ll be pretty honest about it. I wasn’t planning on doing it. I talked to some people who told me maybe I was a being a little too self‑centered. I wasn’t too thrilled about that. I was glad to be there, and I was glad to leave. But I’ve never felt like ‑‑ besides that one guy in the third row that used to scream at me, I thought Boston ‑‑ it’s a wonderful place. If you care about baseball, it’s a wonderful place. Sometimes things happen in that city. You can’t have all that good without having some of the bad, and I got caught up in it.”
Gain additional perspective on managing while working in the broadcast booth? “I hate to say this. I hope it makes me more respectful to the media’s job. Not you personally. Actually, it was a great learning year. One, you’re looking at a game not emotionally because, when the season starts, I don’t care what manager you talk to, you have no ability to view the game without emotion. When you lose, you’re beat up personally. You take it personally. Whether you have enough talent or not, you try to make it work. I also got to see what goes into putting that game on. I used to think those guys showed up and did the game, and it was a lot of work, but I learned a lot, and I was with people that were unbelievably good to me. So it was a great year. I just missed being on the field a lot, and that’s not a bad thing. I was kind of hoping I would. But I had a wonderful year.”